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Dexys - The Empire strikes back
on 4 June 2012
So it turns out that Homer Simpson was right when he predicted in a classic episode of that great show "you haven't heard the last of Dexys Midnight Runners". True its taken some 27 years for the band to return with this album and much water has passed under the bridge with the controversy of Kevin Rowland's solo output, a short reunion tour in 2003 and a growing feeling that this new record which Rowland kind of promised in 2005 would never materialize. But here it is and it's wonderful. Let us pause at this point for a small detour since some critics are stating its Dexys best record ever. This is questionable since "Don't stand me down" remains one of the most precious bits of vinyl in many a discerning record collection and while "One day I'm going to soar" is a splendid record it contains nothing in its grooves like the incredible majesty of "This is what she's like". Nevertheless after this hiatus all sensible predictors could not have anticipated an album quite so rounded, thoughtful, cathartic and packed with great songs. The 58 year old Kevin Rowland remains one of the most potent and original forces in British music and while that voice might not be quite as soaring as it once was it has grown with stature and learned maturity into a truly brilliant instrument.
All shades of the human experience are to be found in the grooves of this record not least ageing, love, dejection and rejuvenation. On the lead single "She got a wiggle" we see a silly title hide one of the most gorgeous Al Green inspired songs that Rowland has penned. It's all dark and burning with passionate intensity. On the opener "Now" you have six minutes of brassy power commencing with a slow start and Rowland reflecting on college days until it kicks into a classic Dexys signature song, which harks back to "Soul Rebels". It is obvious from the outset that the band is tighter than an ill fitting pair of jeans and with Rowland's backed by Pete Williams and Big Jim Paterson from the original line-up and the addition of the Style Council's Mick Talbot and the sterling new female vocalist Madeline Hyland its hardly surprising, The second song is "Lost" and its a classic with Rowland singing better than ever and not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve as he regrets how his soul was "lost inside" pointing at the deep pain of his darker years. "One day I'm going to soar" is a very soulful record and the lounge lizard almost jazzy "Me" epitomizes a new level of relaxed depth with a tell tale spoken passage in the middle of a song which demands repeated plays as Rowland confesses that "all these people are depending on me... I don't know who's friend or foe". It is followed by the excellent "You" that rolls along like an old Stones classic and would require your feet nailed to your floorboards to stop them tapping. The big centre point of the album is the seven minute plus "I'm thinking of you" which just about stays on the right side of being repetitive and is lifted by a nice saxophone solo five minutes in. In terms of "I'm always going to love you" it musically starts like an old Philly sound record until Rowland trades sweet nothings with Hyland (it all ends in tears) in a song which has a one take in the studio ambiance. "Free" was performed with gusto on Jools Holland the other week in a great live performance and comes over on record with even more power and punch, but even better is "Incapable of love" where Rowland exchanges verbal punches with Hyland over his lack of commitment to a relationship. Finally "Its Ok John Joe" is pure Rowland with a lonely piano playing over a long spoken introduction where he confesses, "I'm only learning to operate in this this world". It rolls out slowly but surely over its eight minutes and sees Rowland quote Marvin Gaye and indulge in a therapeutic if questioning lament on the pitfalls of lost love.
Its difficult to describe in words the unadulterated joy that this splendid return after such a time brings to this reviewer. Rowland is a performer we should treasure and speak of in hushed tones. He has certainly dropped howlers aplenty and blurred the fine line between genius and fool. That however is the price you pay for a talent that refuses to lie down. Indeed you strain to think of any bands that dare to bare their souls and inject such heart into their music as Dexys. After listening to this scintillating album you can guarantee that for a time everything thing else will sound devoid of passion and guts.